In 2011, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia (hereinafter: the Ombudsman) examined a number of violations of human rights relating to members of the Roma community in the area of south-eastern Slovenia (the Dolenjska region). In one such case it was established that the residents of a Roma settlement were deprived of access to safe drinking water. In a second case, the municipality authorities refrained from initiating proceedings for the determination of the house numbers in another Roma settlement; as a result, the residents were prevented from exercising their fundamental rights such as the right to social security and healthcare, the right to vote, and the right to education and schooling. We also examined the case of a municipality which over several years delayed inclusion of a Roma settlement into the relevant spatial plan, which resulted (repeatedly) in missing the opportunity for participation in the public call for funds intended for the purchase of plots of land from denationalisation claimants as owners of this land.
In the same period, we also received several initiatives from residents living in close proximity to illegal Roma settlements who feel threatened by the behaviour of the Roma community members. They complained about attacks against their property, disturbance of public order and daily discharge of small arms, the use of open fire in the countryside, aggressive unvaccinated dogs, illegal construction, underage mothers and general degradation of the environment.
Based on these initiatives, the Ombudsman has established that the conditions in Roma settlements and in the vicinity hamper on the one hand the exercise of the human and special rights of the Roma community and, on the other hand, the rights of the residents living in the neighbourhood of Roma settlements. As a result, dignity, personal rights, property rights, equality before the law and, last but not least, confidence in the rule of law in both groups have been affected. Finally, the Ombudsman has established that the first and essential cause of the worrying situation in the Dolenjska region was the absence of legal regulation and of municipality infrastructure in the Roma settlements.
Responsibility for providing legal regulation and municipal infrastructure in accordance with the applicable regulations (the National Programme of Measures for Roma) falls, in the first instance, to the municipality. However, time has shown that several municipalities, as the authorities responsible for the legal regulation and municipal infrastructure of Roma settlements, are inefficient. Concerning the regulation of illegal Roma settlements in the Dolenjska region, the Ombudsman has witnessed transposing the responsibility from the municipalities onto the state and vice versa over several years. For example, the legalisation process concerning one of the Roma settlements has been actively monitored by the Ombudsman since 2003, yet the legal status of the settlement concerned has remained unchanged until the present day. Furthermore, confirmation that the process of regulation of living conditions in Roma settlements is too slow is provided by data on the level of state funds earmarked for improvement of living conditions. In 2008 the Republic of Slovenia budgetary funds intended for the regulation of living conditions for the Roma community amounted to EUR 1,425,734; in 2009 this amount was EUR 1,183,975, while in 2010 the amount was halved to EUR 682,793. In 2011, no funds were earmarked for the needs of municipal infrastructure in Roma settlements at all! It has to be pointed out that the fault for this does not lie solely with the government but also with the municipalities, which, for several reasons, among which some are political, refrain from applying for funds, since this is often associated with the adoption of spatial plans implying legalisation of Roma settlements.
The lengthy legalisation process is evident from the data contained in the adopted spatial acts. According to government information, only two out of ten municipalities which have a Roma population in the Dolenjska region adopted a spatial plan by the end of November 2011; moreover, it remains unknown whether the adopted plans include legalisation of the existing Roma settlements. We addressed enquiries on this issue to the mayors of some municipalities, but our questions and proposals remained unanswered. This absence of a response to the Ombudsman means obstructing our work and is telling of the attitude that the mayors of some of our municipalities have towards the issue of Roma settlements and the Ombudsman’s office itself.
The Ombudsman tried to establish some of the reasons for the municipalities’ failure regarding the regulation of Roma settlements. Legalisation measures may be associated with certain resistance in the majority population; for this reason, local authorities, with a view to preserving their political existence, often fail to adopt an active approach in regulating the issue of Roma settlements. Moreover, legalisation and putting in place relevant infrastructure in Roma settlements is a demanding project requiring qualified personnel, which local authorities often lack. In the Ombudsman’s view, the reasons for lengthy legalisation processes lie in the fact that no sanctions are imposed on the municipalities, which refrain from implementing the required legal and infrastructure regulation measures in the settlements concerned.
The Ombudsman has established that the conditions in Roma settlements and their neighbourhoods are serious and that they call for a special response on our part. Accordingly, we decided to inform the Republic of Slovenia National Assembly of the worrying conditions concerning the integration of the Roma in Slovenian society and of the Ombudsman’s proposals for their solution through a Special Report. The purpose of the Special Report is to give an incentive to the national authorities to speed up the implementation of the National Programme of Measures for Roma.
In the Special Report, the Ombudsman stresses that the regulation of Roma settlements should directly and actively be assumed by the State instead of unsuccessful municipalities. The relevant legal basis is constituted by Article 5 of the Roma Community Act. The Ombudsman made a recommendation for the government to concretise the National Programme of Measures for Roma and to devote more attention to the legal regulation and the municipality infrastructure set-up of Roma settlements, particularly in the Dolenjska region. In the context of such concretisation, we proposed that the government accurately define the process of legal regulation and of the municipal infrastructure set-up of Roma settlements by individual stages. Every individual stage should have a time schedule and there should be supervisory body to monitor the implementation of stages and submit monthly reports. Municipalities failing to implement the envisaged measures in due time should be imposed with sanctions. Delayed implementation by municipalities concerning any of the settlement regulation stages should immediately be followed by the government action. The Ombudsman also suggested that the National Assembly adopt a corresponding legal basis ensuring the right to safe drinking water as an internationally recognised human right in all Roma settlements, regardless of the legal status of the land on which these settlements may be located.
The Ombudsman expects that the aforementioned Special Report will be discussed by the competent National Assembly body, i.e. by the Commission for Petitions, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities, and that based on the proposals by the Ombudsman, the Commission will address the corresponding recommendations to the government and the competent ministries, government bodies and local communities. The decision on whether the Commission should propose the Special Report and the recommendations for discussion in a National Assembly plenary session is left to the discretion of the Commission itself.